Burning in Water is pleased to present Bloom & Gloom, an exhibition of new work by the Brooklyn-based artist Valerie Hegarty. Featuring a series of large-scale installation works and ceramic sculptures, Bloom & Gloom is the artist's third solo exhibition with the gallery. The show includes four large-scale paper-based wall works and twelve new ceramic sculptures.
In Bloom & Gloom, Hegarty combines her recent interest in ceramics with her long-standing practice producing large-scale installations. The works in the current exhibition are broadly inspired by the theme of Vanitas considered from personal, art historical and contemporary perspectives. The large-scale wall pieces are a continuation of a series of paper-based installations that Hegarty began in 2002, which she considers to be her "reverse archaeology" works. As opposed to earlier works in this genre, which frequently referenced iconic imagery from American art history such as Hudson River School landscapes and colonial portraiture, the installation works in Bloom & Gloom are intimately biographical - employing poignant imagery drawn directly from the artist’s life.
The paper-based wall pieces in Bloom & Gloom, though they still maintain the feel of installation work, are more flattened and self-contained, thereby brushing up against the media of paintings or drawings on paper. Fashioned out of paper and papier-mâché, Hegarty glued the portions of these works that she had created in her studio to the gallery walls, painted the edges to blur the boundary between wall and artwork, and then “cut and scraped back” the work to “create a material memory of a space.” Hegarty allowed the paint drips on the wall and the detritus accumulated on the floor to remain — essentially arresting the works at the moment of their creation.
The wall works are placed in the gallery so as to establish a specific journey through the artist’s life as the viewer progresses in a clockwise manner through the space: from interior and exterior public spaces that constitute the artist’s contemporary environs (My Subway Stop & Boarded Up Window, Brooklyn) to an intimate private space (My Bathroom Walls) and then back to an evoked setting from the artist’s childhood (Childhood Home: Mom’s Bedroom Wallpaper). In the course of four physical interludes, Hegarty establishes a personal geography populated by locales both persistent and remembered. Although functioning as specific evocations of locations from Hegarty’s life, each wall work also acts dynamically as a perceived portal or site of transformation. For example, Boarded-Up Window, Brooklyn, in addition to obliquely addressing the history of both abstract expressionist painting and graffiti art, also functions as a static object that alludes to the constantly churning cycle of gentrification that shapes the lives of artists and their urban communities.
In My Bathroom Walls, Hegarty adopts as her subject the most intimate of personal spaces — the bath — where “we confront our vulnerability and mortality most directly…as we are greeted with our reflection and our mortal bodies.” For Hegarty, the setting is intensely evocative of her own bout with cancer and the attendant confrontation with mortality. So as to render the environment in a more conventionally-accessible artistic form, Hegarty has essentially unfolded her shower into a flat work that can be hung on the wall. In the process, she has meticulously depicted the structural cracks that would occur in the corners of the space were such a physical transformation actually wrought. The resulting work, in the artist’s words, “flips between being an architectural fragment à la Gordon Matta Clark and a collage on paper.” Through their material handling and approach to subject, the paper wall works in Bloom & Gloom, despite their embodiment as evocations of intensely-personal spheres, recapitulate references to broader societal themes that have preoccupied Hegarty for nearly twenty years: the crumbling of America’s infrastructure and decay of communal urban spaces, environmental degradation and climate change, and the increasing anachronism of the nation’s originating idealism.
In addition to thematic and visual references to the art-historical conception of Vanitas, the ceramic sculptures in the exhibition are also inspired by the classical Japanese aesthetics of Kintsugi (金継ぎ) and Yakisugi (焼杉). The ceramic wall piece Broken Rosebush functions as a transition point between the paper wall works and ceramic sculptures. Sculpted as an intricate ceramic tile work featuring flower bulbs, roots, and leaves, Broken Rosebush was deliberately shattered and then painstakingly reconstructed by the artist in a manner inspired by the classical Japanese practice of Kintsugi (金継ぎ), or “Golden Joinery.” In Kintsugi, broken pottery is reconstructed using lacquer laced with gold or platinum, and fractures are considered to be simply evidence of an object’s history and repair rather than flaws to be concealed - with the repairs themselves thought to be aesthetically satisfying elements in their own right.
The freestanding ceramic sculptures in Bloom & Gloom freely reference the 17th century Dutch genre of Vanitas painting transmuted into the medium of ceramics. Although the prototypical subject of tulips is manifested in varying iterations, Hegarty inscribes contemporary anxieties regarding environmental loss, apocalyptic destruction, and illness into the works. Dead Tulips, Cracked appears to have been desiccated by an unrelenting sun; Dead Tulips with Roots suggests a corporal sense of vulnerability; and Dead Tulips, Driftwood encodes the existential threat of rising water.
The apotheosis of Hegarty’s vision of destruction in these works is embodied in the sculpture Charred Tulips, which suggests a post-conflagration still life. Classical Japanese aesthetics are again implicated, as Charred Tulips evokes the practice of Yakisugi (焼杉), in which wood is deliberately burned in a controlled manner to achieve water-resistance and strengthening through carbonization. A flickering sense of hope is thus suggested, whereby resilience and survival persist amidst the threat of destruction.
Valerie Hegarty (b. 1967, Burlington, VT) is a Brooklyn-based artist whose paintings, sculptures, and large-scale installations frequently employ critical engagement with American history and address themes of memory, place and art-historical legacy. Previous solo exhibition venues include the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, NY; Marlborough Gallery, NY; Locust Projects, Miami; Museum 52, London; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Guild & Greyshkul, NY. Public commissions include Autumn on the Hudson Valley with Branches (2009) for High Line Art and a special projects installation for the Brooklyn Museum. Recent group exhibition venues include Mother Gallery, Beacon, NY; BravinLee Programs, NY; The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco; Asya Geisberg Gallery, NY; Kathryn Markel Gallery, NY; Interventions 3, NY; and Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NY. Hegarty’s work is included in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Perez Art Museum Miami, the Portland Museum of Art, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Saatchi Museum, the Tang Museum, the Peabody-Essex Museum and the Wadsworth Atheneum. Valerie's work is currently included in the group exhibitions Nature's Nation: American Art and Environment at the Princeton University Museum of Art and Black Mirror: Art as Social Satire at the Saatchi Gallery in London.
Hegarty received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has received grants and awards from the Pollock Krasner Foundation, The New York Foundation for the Arts, the Rema Hort Mann Foundation, the Tiffany Foundation and Campari NY. She has completed residencies at LMCC, Marie Walsh Sharpe, PS 122, MacDowell, Yaddo and Smack Mellon, and served as the first Andrew W. Mellon Arts and the Common Good Artist-in-Residence at Drew University.